PG&E indicted for San Bruno explosion

A federal grand jury has indicted Pacific Gas & Electric Co. on twelve counts of violating the federal Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act of 1968 in relation to the Sept. 9, 2010, explosion of a portion of its 30-in. OD Line 132 in San Bruno, Calif. The US District Court for Northern District of California noted violations of six particular sections of the pipeline safety law:

• Failure to gather and integrate relevant data to identify all potential threats to a gas transmission pipeline.

• Failure to maintain certain repair records for a gas transmission pipeline.

• Failure to identify and evaluate potential threats to a gas transmission pipeline.

• Failure to include all potential threats and to select a suitable threat assessment method for a gas transmission pipeline.

• Failure to prioritize a gas transmission pipeline with an unstable manufacturing threat.

• Failure to prioritize and assess a gas transmission pipeline with an unstable manufacturing threat.

The maximum penalty on each charge is $500,000 or an alternate fine based on gains PG&E made by violating the law or victims’ losses. The explosion killed eight, injured 58 more, and destroyed numerous homes.

The California Department of Justice has been conducting its own criminal investigation in cooperation with other local authorities and federal agencies, including the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration. State Attorney General Kamala Harris described the federal indictment as “an important step in providing justice for the individuals, families, and community devastated by” the explosion. The attorney general went on to say that her office would continue work on prosecuting the matter in federal court, noting that “when allegedly faced with evidence of transmission line problems, PG&E knowingly and willfully chose not to assess and remediate them.”

PG&E has satisfied nine of the 12 National Transportation Safety Board recommendations made following the blast and expects to satisfy two more in the next few months, Nick Stavropoulos, the company’s executive vice-president for gas operations, said in February (OGJ Online, Feb. 11, 2014). He also noted the success of the company’s new nonpunitve self-reporting initiative in identifying potential problems.

Contact Christopher E. Smith at

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